I was impressed with changes made to the student loan program to take the loans away from private banks, formulas that dramatically lowered monthly payments (mine went down 40%), and forgiveness of balances after ten years of payments for those who went into public service.
I expected my students to be equally impressed by this as I was when I told them about it since most of them struggle to work their way through college. Instead, the comments I got were ''Why do we have to pay for college at all?''
''Isn't college free in Europe?''
and of course, "I don't get it. What difference does that make?''
My point is not that the ONLY changes that should be made are sweeping game changers--sometimes incrementalism is the only option--but when you got elected with the support of idealistic kids, you better do something for them that they can instantly understand or better yet, they can clearly see and feel the effects of in their lives.
I suspect that in other areas where kids aren't directly affected, like foreign policy, they see even less reason to be excited since the change is mostly in tone not substance.
I work with my faculty union and see this in the frustration our negotiators have: they are fighting for a small but significant change, but they can't get faculty to take any kind of job action (let alone strike) so they end up with even less. To get people to act on their own behalf, the change needs to be big and clear, not a 3-5% change in their life amortized over a decade.
Kids are definitely not going to be impressed by the Gibbs/Rahm/Axelrod strategy of telling progressive voters (which is what college kids are) to sit down, shut up, and vote for them because their only other choice is the GOP Manson family. That's the kind of thing that pissed off college kids in the 60's, and if they stick with that strategy, Obama will go from being this generation's JFK to to its 1968 LBJ.